“The end of Dial ‘M’?” or “Why run a musicology blog?”

May 30, 2010 at 1:26 am 9 comments

It is not uncommon for academic blogs to occasionally go several weeks to a few months between postings.  After all, unlike Perez Hilton, we have classes to teach and papers to grade.  I blog when I feel compelled to write something and I’ve got the time to convert that impulse into prose.  If that results in irregular or infrequent posts, so be it.  I feel that it is better than prattling on about a bunch of stuff that I (let alone our readers) don’t ultimately care about.  I find that the blogs I enjoy the most take a similar approach.

That’s why I hadn’t made much of the silence that’s been brewing over at the pioneering academic blog “Dial ‘M’ for Musicology,” which has posted nothing since the end of February.  Again, a 2-3 month hiatus is not uncommon.  I was excited when Google Reader informed me there was a new post, but saddened when I clicked through to read:  Johnathan Bellman has run his final blog entry. I’ll leave it to you to read this eloquent-as-always final transmission wherein he offers his reasonable reasons for abandoning the medium.  He is careful to point out that he is only speaking for himself and not for his co-blogger Phil Ford.

I would like to say THANK YOU to Professor Bellman for all his blogging efforts.  His posts and Dial “M” as a whole not only stimulated much musicological discourse, it prompted many to take their own swing at the blogosphere, including myself.

The departure of one of the more prominent musicology bloggers prompts me to reflect on the nature of what we do as academic bloggers and why there aren’t more of us.

People tend to start blogging because they believe that they have something worth sharing with whatever community to which they imagine their words will appeal.  In my case, it was finding a tooth in the archives. I continue to post because I feel that I address subjects and issues that our readers find interesting.  I’d like to think that folks hang on my every word, but I know this is not the case.  Sometimes a post will receive a lot of commentary, sometimes it passes almost completely unnoticed.  Either way, as is the case with all musicology blogs, the medium provides an opportunity to circumvent the traditional means of scholarly distribution.  Rather than present a conference paper and then publish my findings via an academic journal or book, my blog allows me to share my musicological musings freely and quickly with a broad community of readers.

Who is this community that we write for?  Most musicology bloggers are recent PhDs or graduate students.  Likewise, a majority of our readership comes from the same demographic.  However, as a result of the public nature of our blog there are also many non-academics who read our posts, including those who stumble upon it as a result of a Google search (“zeldarian mode” brings us a lot of traffic).  Although our readership numbers are strong, we don’t yet have the same reach as publications such as JAMS or American Music Review.  At the same time, we’re read by a lot of people beyond musicology and beyond academia.

I believe that it this “open to anyone” feature of the musicological blog prevents more academic-types from sharing their work in such a venue.  We’ve invited scholars from all points in their careers to submit pieces to Amusicology and so far only a handful of recent PhDs and graduate students have contributed.

I understand the reluctance to contribute to (let alone run) a musicology blog. One common concern is the unknown effect that blogging might have on one’s career. I can say that I posted my first Amusicology writings with great trepidation, immediately wondering if I’d said something that might damage my future standing in the field of musicology.  While I’ve become increasingly less concerned with such matters as the years wear on, I do occasionally ask: Will my blog effect my chances of getting hired? Or, what will these posts mean for tenure when (knock on wood) I face that crossroads?  Perhaps a whole lot.  Perhaps very little.  It remains yet to be seen if being a public musicologist is appealing or not.

Because it is unknown if academic blogging helps move one’s career forward, most chose to put their efforts towards those endeavors that traditionally have. Another question I ask:  Am I wasting my time giving away my (scholarly) ideas in a non-peer-reviewed setting?  I think not.  Since I don’t blog frequently (and I rarely blog about my own scholarship specifically), I rarely feel like the time I spend writing for Amusicology is a waste.  Even if it ultimately has no effect one way or the other on my career, it keeps me in the habit of writing.  And it keeps me in the habit of communicating myself to a broader base of readers than I might in my more traditional academic style.

If Dial “M” does end up going by the wayside, I’m hesitant to say that it is a sign of things to come for the future of musicology blogs.  The reality of blogs is that they come and go; they are just as easy to begin as they are to end.  Still, the musicological blogging community is ever expanding.  Although the process has been slow and several blogs and bloggers have opted out in the process, I can proudly say that the issues raised by those active within the musicological blogosphere are provocative and more closely attuned to the currents of the discipline than many of its printed counterparts.  I do not intend this as a slight against such traditional venues, in which I am also an active participant.  Rather, I hope that the concerns that prevent more musicologists from participating in the academic blogosphere–whether as bloggers, commenters, or readers–will subside, filling the silences between my postings with their own insightful observations.

Entry filed under: musicology, professional development, publishing, Ryan Raul Bañagale. Tags: , , , , .

Congratulations Drew, PhD! Musicology in the Blogosphere


  • 1. Brendan Higgins  |  May 30, 2010 at 11:46 am

    What timing. I’ve recently been mulling over the idea of starting a music blog to explore my thoughts concerning cross-genre influence and borrowing. You’ve addressed several of my concerns, especially about the audience/community, though I always feel that furthering discussions about music is the fundamental to the field.

    Its a shame to see a good musicology blog fade away, but as you said, that is the nature of the blog. I agree that this medium has much to offer musicologist and for expanding music discussions. Let’s hope there are more to come and keep up the good posts. Thanks

  • 2. Lincoln Ballard  |  May 30, 2010 at 2:40 pm

    Thanks for this great tribute, Ryan. I’ve also noticed the inactivity at Dial M over the last few months, and will be saddened if it actually becomes defunct. I agree that its (probable) demise is not a harbinger for the future of academic blogs – I stumble across more of these electronic gems every day, and I consider them an important forum for testing out new interpretive approaches in musicology and related disciplines. Especially with regard to pop culture topics, a handful of bloggers are advancing some truly thought-provoking ideas that thrill me to no end. (Just yesterday I found Kate Durbin’s and Meghan Vicks’ “Gaga Stigmata,” featuring critical writings on Lady Gaga: http://gagajournal.blogspot.com). To me, writing academic blogs is a lot like delivering conference papers; it invites instant feedback on original arguments that could be further refined, except you don’t have to travel half a day to reach your audience. And judging by the slow, but steady proliferation of these blogs, it seems that many people are indeed setting their fears aside and putting their ideas out there for all to see.

    I first clicked over to Dial M about a year ago, and it marked my first foray into the world of musicology blogs. I was instantly hooked. Dial M strikes me as a real patriarch in the blogosphere — one of the original models for some of these newer sites that I discover each week. I enjoy the spirited banter between Jonathan and Phil; antagonistic at times yet always encouraging, their posts clearly represent the opinions of two very different thinkers who play off of one another like some of the great political commentators or comedy duos. I am still making my way through Dial M’s juicy archives, and thankfully I have a few months’ worth of posts left to read through. If Jonathan’s farewell transmission truly marks the end of the line for Dial M, I join you in raising my glass to the inspiring ideas that this pioneering blog played host to.

  • 3. PMG  |  May 31, 2010 at 2:12 pm

    One of the weirdest thing about musicology blogging is that almost all of us do it under our real names, which is not the case in other disciplines where many are either currently or formerly pseudonymous. This of course has the result of less vigorous comment threads (Dial M might get an argument or two, but it’s nothing compared to the giant flame wars that happen in other disciplines.) I don’t miss the flame wars, but I wouldn’t mind the higher energy levels.

    I also think we lack a certain interconnectedness. You and I comment on each other’s blogs, and we’ve each certainly built up a small base of commenters, but it’s not what it could be. Back in the day Phil Sr. was really good at trying to build blog community, with memes and links and whatnot, but for whatever reason that never quite caught on, even with his co-bloggers–I never got the sense that Jonathan read other blogs widely. I think the power of blogging lies not in individuals having a public forum for themselves, but in the community of bloggers and commenters that are formed as a result of those forums. It’s too bad that has never quite happened for us.

    That said, the main reason I blog is because I love writing, and it gives me an excuse to get the pontificating out my system. (my wife particularly appreciates that.) Anything else is just a bonus.

  • 4. Ryan Raul Bañagale  |  June 1, 2010 at 10:47 pm

    Thanks for the comments!

    @Brendan: I hope that you will start your blog. I’m of the mind that any thoughtful music-related posts further the discussion. Plus, you never have the opportunity for feedback unless you put your ideas out there in the first place, right?

    @Lincoln: Thanks for the Lady Gaga info. I’ve got an amusicology post on her brewing, but it isn’t ready for prime time. Maybe I’ll submit it directly to that site. I’d like to do a series of posts that collate some of these “electronic gems” as a means of providing a bit more interconnectedness. You interested in writing up a post on some of your favorite pop sites?

    @Phil: Good point about the non-anonymity that we’ve all embraced. I wonder why that is the case. To be honest, it never really occurred to me to do otherwise. I wonder what we can do to create more of a community. One thought would be to condense the blogs a bit. Sort of what your UCLA-ish Musicology / Matters blog accomplishes by bringing people who also run their own blogs together. Or, maybe we should have certain blogs stand as a sort of clearing house or that provide a venue for people who post infrequently.
    As I mentioned in the post, however, there is still a certain fear factor associated with sharing one’s work/ideas via the blogosphere.
    My wife also appreciates that I blog!

  • 5. Robert Lintott  |  June 2, 2010 at 2:56 pm

    Is there any interest in a larger-scale group blog as a way of fostering community? I’ll admit that I’ve thought of doing a musicology blog just to put out interesting ideas/questions from time to time. But I know I wouldn’t write enough to sustain readership (thus I would get no response), etc. If, however, there were a group blog, each person could post once or twice a month and yet there would always be new content.

    What are people’s thoughts on this?

  • 6. Ralph Locke  |  June 4, 2010 at 9:16 am

    I have to vote for non-anonymity.

    It’s a basic principle of scholarship: we identify ourselves (and cite our sources, the first of these being . . . ourself!).

    So a musicology blog, almost by definition, needs to be transparent about these matters, or else it becomes something else, something more personal and free-ranging perhaps, but no longer an outlet for scholars writing _as_ scholars.

    True, we each may have identities of other sorts: we may be an American citizen outraged by public statements from the CEO of British Petroleum, or a film fan intrigued by the new version of The Karate Kid.

    But a blog full of posts of that sort is of less interest to me than an informal, but rich, blog by one or more musicologists writing (as I said) _as_ musicologists (or musicologists-in-training).

  • 7. sociosound  |  June 18, 2010 at 1:43 pm

    I suppose I qualify in Ralph’s post as a musicologist-in-training. Thanks for writing some great posts. I’m always on the look-out for academic blogs that actually update their content. It looks like so many get started, and then trail off. It’s such a great way to collaborate, and to follow peoples’ careers!

    I had been following Dial M for a while as well. I came across it last year some time, loved the silly phone graphic at the top, and bookmarked it for further reading. It is a shame that he’s no longer on the sphere with us –

    Meanwhile – I’m bookmarking you so I can check for updates. I just discovered google reader, and I’m in love! 🙂

  • 8. Ryan Raul Bañagale  |  July 4, 2010 at 2:47 pm

    Sorry for the delay in responding to this second batch of responses:

    @Robert – I’m not sure if we need a group blog so much as better awareness of the various blogs out there. One of the nice things about blogs is that each can have its own positionally (even if updated infrequently). Additionally, we need more frequent interaction between the blogs, which is something I’m going to strive for in my next few postings. In lieu of a group blog, I hope you’ll feel free to submit any posts (or ideas for posts) to us for publication on amusicology!

    @Ralph – I like your observation that academic blogs should feature “scholars writing _as_ scholars” more-so than something more free-ranging. At the same time, I do think it is a place where one’s own personality can come through in a much more overt way than other, more formal outlets. When Drew and I submitted our list of other recommended musicology blogs we provided this disclaimer, which also was cut:

    “There is no shortage of blogs about music. What constitutes a “musicology blog”? We hate to define it, but for the purposes of the following list the following conditions hold: Primary authors/contributors are musicology PhDs or graduate students well on their way; Majority of posts are about musicological subjects/concerns; Have been updated within the past few months. Blogs come and go, but as of late-spring 2010, here are some of our favorite (active) blogs:”

    @sociosound – Thanks for reading! Now we know about you; the sphere grows larger. Updates come in waves, so google reader is a godsend for keeping up with everyone. Good luck with the move. Keep in touch!

  • 9. Jeremy Coleman  |  July 22, 2010 at 6:31 pm

    Hello there! I’m very glad to have stumbled upon your blog. Having recently graduated from Cambridge, *England* (I gather that most of you are of American disposition), I’ll return to Cambridge next academic year to begin graduate work in musicology. I look forward to keeping in touch with you all on this site. Many thanks.


Amusicology is an online forum for musicologists, academic or otherwise. Although Ryan Raul Banagale and Drew Massey are its founders and chief contributors, we welcome guest submissions. Please let us know if you would like to contribute a guest posting. Comments are always welcome and encouraged!

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